City of Bristol, Historic Maps and Market Cross

Margery Kempe visited at a time when Bristol was at the height of its economic and cultural power. Bombing during World War II has destroyed much of the medieval heritage of the city, where parish churches, religious foundations of orders such as the Franciscans, and charitable foundations where once on virtually every significant street. The city owed its importance to its deep river that predictably rose and fell with the incoming tides. Once within the river's protection, the ships found a safe harbor. Almost all trade with Ireland and Spain was directed through Bristol. Margery Kempe's voyage to the shrine of St. James of Compostela on Spain's northern coast was most efficiently accomplished by sailing from Bristol. William Smith's map of Bristol dates 1568 shows the importance of the river system to the city.

Robert Richart's plan of Bristol, drawn in 1480, gives a good indication of the city that Kempe visited, with its two great avenues intersecting at the market crossing. The avenues terminated in four city gates, similar to those extant for York. The city boasted a great market cross erected in 1400. Typical of many crosses, if perhaps more lavish, the market cross was decorated with life-size statues of kings of England carved in stone and painted in polychrome. Four have survived. The market cross was finally dismantled in 1762, and bought by Henry Hoare for his estate of Stourhead, Wiltshire. In 1890 copies were put on the cross and the originals, owned by the National Trust, are on loan to the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.


See: "Almost the richest city": Bristol in the Middle Ages / edited by Laurence Keen, London: British Archaeological Association, 1997.